Computer Room Dream Coming True – LankaPage May 28, 2002

Computer Room Dream Coming True – LankaPage May 28, 2002

COMPUTER ROOM DREAM COMING TRUE

By Nanda Wanninayaka, Mahawilachchiya, Sri Lanka – May 28, 2002

May 28, Mahawilachchiya, Anuradhapura: When we put the story about our ‘Dream Computer Room’ on our website, we never imagined that the dream would come true as early as this. The story was uploaded to the Net in February this year and there wasn’t much response except for some encouraging emails from well-wishers. But things changed dramatically when a feature about our site appeared on the LankaPage news site. The hits to the website went up sky high with more than 100,000 hits only in April.

After the feature appeared, Kumara Badhuge from Qatar contributed US$ 1500/= and promised he would contribute more if necessary. The building work resumed with that money and now it has gone up to the roof level.

Prabhath Dasanayaka, a construction engineer in the USA, contributed Rs. 10,000 when he visited the village and met the kids and the parents two weeks ago. He was greatly impressed and promised he would convince the Sri Lankan expatriate community in the USA and Canada once he goes back.

Harsha Perera of Oracle sent A$ 100/=. Initially Thushara Wijerathna from Microsoft, USA, had contributed Rs. 15,000/=. A Lion’s Club in Colombo had given Rs. 25,000 and Mr. and Mrs. Gaminitilake had contributed Rs. 20,000/= before the story went to the Net. Thus we have so far received around Rs. 225,000/= for the construction work.

According to the estimates, we may still need another Rs. 250,000/= to 300,000/= to finish the computer room. Original estimates had to be changed as the building material prices were changed drastically since 75 houses are being built in the village under a government project. This resulted in a price hike in materials like sand, metal and bricks and in the mason’s fees.

The budget of the room will be put online as soon as we finish the Horizon Annual Concert. All in the Horizon are very busy with organizing the Horizon kids’ annual concert these days. Building work also is going simultaneously.

Chula Bandara of the USA sent Rs. 10,000/= to Isuru, a promising student of the Horizon, after seeing a story about him on our website.

Ashraf Ahamat of Wattala, Sri Lanka, donated his laptop computer to the Horizon. Nuwan Samaranayake of the USA also sent a new multimedia computer with a UPS and some software to the Horizon kids. Even a floppy diskette is a luxury for these kids who cannot afford to buy them.

The kids are thrilled with the recent developments and working harder than ever as they see a glimpse of light about their future now. I thank all of you on behalf of the kids for contributing to Horizon.

Horizon Annual Concert 2002 – LankaPage May 28, 2002

Horizon Annual Concert  2002 – LankaPage May 28, 2002

We, Mahawilachchiya village kids in the Horizon School, are going to stage our 3rd Annual Concert in the village playground on June 8th.

We invite all our well wishers to visit the village and see the concert on the eve of June 8th. Please confirm your participation either by sending an email to Mr. Wanni at wanni@horizonlanka.org or by contacting him on 94-77-7702678.

The road to Mahavilachchiya can be seen in Our Village page. Last year we got visitors from Colombo and the USA as well.

We are practicing the songs and dance items these days. We are going to perform dances for Sri Lankan folk songs, Tamil, Indian, Arabic, Spanish and Western songs.

Horizon Dream Computer Room Is Underway – LankaPage May 15, 2002

Horizon Dream Computer Room Is Underway – LankaPage May 15, 2002

HORIZON DREAM COMPUTER ROOM IS UNDERWAY

A SRI LANKAN PROFESSIONAL IN QATAR HELPS OUR KIDS

By Nandasiri Wanninayaka, Sri Lanka May 15, 2002

May 15, Mahawilachchiya: Since the story of The Horizon School appeared on the LankaPage and ColomboPage Sri Lankan news sites, I am getting a massive number of emails from all over the world. I couldn’t reply to all the mails personally, which resulted in some communication delays. To make things worse, I had to be hospitalized due to a terrible viral flu, which hampered all my work for three consecutive weeks. I am optimistic many who promised help would get back to me.

Surprisingly, I get emails from Singhalese, Tamil and Muslim communities praising our work. It seems to me that the Horizon kids’ innocent smiles have brought the Sri Lankans together at least once, after a long time. This is something they failed to do with peace marches, peace songs, peace prayers, etc., which only cost thousands of rupees. In Horizon, we do have a very few Tamil kids as well who learn together with the Singhalese kids under the same mango tree without any differences as Horizon is based on team culture. They love and respect each other.

When I got Kumara Badhuge’s first email I thought it would be like any other email, expressing the warmth of a Sri Lankan expatriate who felt homesick after seeing our kids’ website. But with his next email he said that he is sending US$ 1,500/= (SL Rs. 144,000/=), which is a big amount in Sri Lankan rupees. He kept the promise next day by sending the money through the SWIFT banking system.

The kids and the parents were over the moon when they heard it. They had been anticipating a positive response for more than a year as the foundation for the computer room was laid last year. Now the building work has been resumed. Two masons were hired and parents support the masons on a voluntary basis. The basic estimate done by a civil engineer revealed that the cost of the building would be around Rs. 600,000/=. With Mr. Badhuge’s contribution and some other contributions we have received around Rs. 200,000/= so far.

Kumara Badhuge has worked in Qatar National Bank, Qatar, since 1992 as a Senior Systems Analyst. He has been involved in software projects for the last four years and at the moment is engaged in a system replacement project.

Kumara was born in Polonnaruwa. That must have been the reason why he wanted to contribute to the Horizon School in such a big way since he must have undergone the hardships of learning in a dry zone rural area like Polonnaruwa, which is very similar to Anuradhapura. Both his parents were teachers. One should be blessed to have teachers as parents since in Sri Lankan culture teachers are treated as gods who are only second to one’s own parents. Kumara is the eldest in the family and has three sisters. His parents are living in Kandy now. He is married and has two sons, Hansika and Madhushanka. His wife, Sriyani, is again a child of a schoolteacher. Sriyani – may be due to the influence of her teacher-parents – gave her full support to help Mr. Badhuge to make the contribution as she thinks that even a rural village kid in Sri Lanka should get the decent education her own children get. Mr. and Mrs. Badhuge can treat these village kids as their own kids.

When contacted after the donation they made, they were very reluctant to get the donation publicized. Mr. Badhuge said, “It’s not a donation. It’s only a contribution. I do not like the word ‘donation’. The word ‘donation’ we use today always drives us in one meaning, which is ‘material contribution’. It does not cover another major contribution a person can make for the betterment of the world.”

“What you are doing and sacrificing is a million times more important than what ever we all do together,” Mr. Badhuge continued. “You have provided those kids in Mahawilachchiya the much-needed ‘moral support’ and ‘guidance’ in all these years. Also, whenever we see the word ‘donation’, people forget to look at the reason for contribution; they look at the size of the contribution. I believe a contribution of a single brick with a pure mind and the right objective is worth a million times more than a contribution of a million dollars with a wrong objective. And we have an obligation to contribute at least in a minute way to the motherland where we were born and bred. So, we can’t ‘donate’ money as the foreign countries do. We can only ‘contribute’ to the betterment of the motherland.”

“I strongly believe that I have a job to do in this world, that is to assist others, not only by material means but to make the world a better and a peaceful place for the coming generations.”

Mahawilachchiya Kids Fight Against All Odds – Wijeya May 14, 2002

Mahawilachchiya Kids Fight Against All Odds – Wijeya May 14, 2002

 

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MAHAWILACHCHIYA KIDS FIGHT AGAINST ALL ODDS

Sunanda Deshapriya Karunarathna May 14, 2002

“Mahawilachchiya is one of the most rural areas in the Anuradhapura district. There are forty kilometers to our village from Anuradhapura. From time to time the Tigers (LTTE) attack our village. We hide in the jungle when they attack “. That was how a child in Mahawilachchiya, described his village.
They had never seen a computer before. Most of the times their school suffers from the absence of an English teacher.

The new teachers get transferred to better schools as soon as they are appointed to village school.

The students are very good at performing dances and singing. But those seedlings of skills never had a chance to grow into fully-grown trees.

Nandasiri Wanninayaka is a young English teacher who was born in Mahawilachchiya, studied in the same area and appointed to work in the same area. Students called him “Mr. Wanni”.

Wanni thought of a way to help these sweet wild flowers destined to wither without a chance to bloom. The result was starting the Horizon School to improve their English and computer knowledge. The school did not have buildings. The students learned under the shades of a tree. They liked it very much. They gradually gained English knowledge and sprang up in the shape of a hand written magazine “The Horizon”. After seeing this magazine The US embassy of Sri Lanka, presented them a computer. They began to work even more enthusiastically. Then the Slimline Company donated them a few more computers.

While these things happening, a journalist who visited Mahawilachchiya published an article on the web. Mr. Donald and Bhadra Gaminitillake came across the article and as a result, the Horizon School received a helping hand from them and their friends.

Mr. Donald is an expert in website designing. Wanni learned website designing from him. And the end result was the beautiful website www.horizonlanka.org. All the English articles in this site had been written by the Horizon kids. Now they can use a computer very well. They are good at English too. Then Mr. Wanni bought an electric organ with his hard saved money. It was meant to improve the singing, dancing and performing abilities of the Horizon kids.

Mahawilachchiya is still deprived of the facilities, which are common to the Colombo kids. But recently I had a chance to see how far they have improved their talents in singing and dancing. We went to see them on the New Year day.The horizon kids performed an excellent show for us. We really enjoyed their songs and dances. These kids are living examples for all of us. You may lack facilities to develop but the effort and determination can lead you to the top. Before I take my leave Mr. Wanni told me, “We must have a goal. And we should believe that we can reach that goal and we also must have a firm determination to break all the barriers on the road of achieving our goal. If you have all these qualities nothing can stop your success.”

If you can keep this piece of advice in your mind and learn something from the story of the Horizon kids your life too will be a successful one.

Story of a Dynamic Teacher – LankaPage May 06, 2002

Story of a Dynamic Teacher – LankaPage May 06, 2002

 

STORY OF A DYNAMIC TEACHER
WILPATTU JUNGLE GETS A COMPUTER TEACHER

Monday, May 6, 2002

May 06, Mahawilachchiya, Anuradhapura: It is an incredible and amazing story. But it is true.

Thanks to Dialog (a cellular phone company in Sri Lanka) and individual donors, the children of farmers in Maha Wilachchiya in the western borders of the once LTTE threatened village will gain access to the Internet in the future. Kids are creating websites and posting their stories.

This village, bordering the historic Tantrimale temple, is 40 kilometres from Anuradhapura and had been the scene of many massacres by the LTTE until recently.

But nothing had deterred a young schoolmaster to take information technology to the kids who had never seen a computer.

The school is called Horizon School and their website is ‘http://www.horizonlanka.org‘.

The dedicated young man behind this effort is Nandasiri Wanninayaka. He is the sole guide and hope of these children, whose parents make a living from their meager agricultural products.

Wanni has effected a drastic change in the life of these children and a new horizon is before them.

He started to work with the children with one computer and now has several computers given to the children with the help of donors.

He has become the pioneer in taking the Internet to a jungle village in Sri Lanka.

“The world is now open to them and they could reach it from their humble houses,” said Wanninayaka.

Mr. Donald Gaminithilake, an image technologist, and his wife Bhadra, who earlier lived in Japan, gave him a helping hand in web designing.

A businessman who had an insight about Wanni’s computer capabilities and his devotion to poor children offered a job at the Slimline factory in the Northwest.

Wanni works five days for his employer and makes a beeline to Mahawilachchiya during the weekend to supervise the kids.

The unique feature of the website created by him is the abundance of greenery – a very soothing effect for the eye.

It gives a taste of that part of the neglected and arid area, nestling among the vast tract of jungle teeming with wild elephants, leopards, sambur, wild boar and many other animals and birds.

The students now write their essays in English thanks to Wanni, who earlier was an English teacher.

Wanni hopes to get a couple computers for his kids and train them in computer assembly and troubleshooting. In addition he teaches these kids singing, dancing and music.

He has achieved the impossible and can be reached through wanni@horizonlanka.org.

The Dream Computer Village in Tiger-Threatened Village – Wijeya Pariganaka May, 2002

The Dream Computer Village in Tiger-Threatened Village – Wijeya Pariganaka May, 2002

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THE DREAM COMPUTER SCHOOL IN TIGER-THREATENED VILLAGE
HORIZON SCHOOL IN MAHAWILACHCHIYA

Sunanda Deshapriya Karunarathna sapari@wijeya.lk May, 2002

I am going to tell you a fairy tale; a fairy tale rich with emotions; on the other hand a fairy tale that tells about a dream coming to life. My location is Mahavilachchiya in Anuradhapura district. It is 40 Km away from the city of Anuradhapura, adjoining Wilpattu national park, an area threatened by the LTTE terrorists. They attacked the village several times during the period between1988-1996. Even today, home guards armed with T-56 rifles, guard the village in the bunkers scattered around the village.

Our travel guide pointed a damaged place on the tarred road saying, “In 1988 they blasted a land mine here. The bomb had been set to blast the bus, but an army jeep was caught.” We looked at each other.

When the computer has become a toy in the hands of Colombo metropolitan kids and Sri Lankan kids become the owners of software development companies, Mahavilachchiya kids were taken refuge in the jungle fearing LTTE attacks. While the students in Colombo were surfing the web for knowledge, Mahavilachchiya kids had not even seen a computer monitor.

Though this was something common to most of the rural Sri Lankan villages, a young teacher, Mr. Nandasiri Wanninayaka, who was born and bred in the same area, laid the foundation to change this pathetic situation.

Mr. Wanni realized that however much talented the students in these areas, the lack of English Knowledge, the computer phobia and the typical shyness withered those talents.

He took his students out of the classroom to teach them English. They absorbed the language eagerly because they did not have a teacher of English before.

During this time he encouraged the students to publish a handwritten magazine “The Horizon” and he posted a few copies to the foreign missions in Sri Lanka. The US embassy in Colombo was pleased with the effort, presented the Mahavilachchiya village school a computer. But nobody was there to operate a computer. Wanni, using the Help Menu, taught himself the art of using a PC first. Then he imparted the knowledge to his students. The second issue of the Horizon came out as a computer printout.

The unconventional way of this young teacher was a bit hard to devour for a few elder teachers in the school. They paved the way for Wanni to the school. A determined Wanni thought, “I can go back to the rice fields but I will not let die the light which I lit for these innocent kids.” He quit the job.

To improve the English and the computer education, and at the same time to improve the other skills of Mahavilachchiya kids, Wanni started the “Horizon School”. He appointed one of the parents as the treasurer of the institution.

But the Horizon kids lost the opportunity of using their computer. It was safely locked in a schoolroom (in the former school). “The Horizon” magazine again came out as a hand written magazine.

Wanni went to Colombo with the magazine. His intention was to go to the US embassy. He had enough time before the appointment and he just let himself astray along the streets of Colombo. In this walk he came across the huge “Lankadeepa” building. The Sunday Times newspaper that Wanni wrote to occasionally was also in the same building. He stepped in and met Gamini Akmeemana of the “Daily Mirror” newspaper. Gamini listened to Wanni’s story about “wild flowers of Mahavilachchiya” and in the next week Gamini went to Mahavilachchiya. That story was published in IPS (Inter Press Service) website revealing the computer kids of Mahavilachchiya to the whole world.

Mr. Donald Gaminitilake worked in Japan as an image technologist, for a long time. He and his wife Mrs. Bhadra Gaminitillake accidentally read Gamini’s letter on IPS web. Mr. Donald directed the attention of their friends on the article and as a result the Managing director of the East West Company Mr. Sanjeewa Wickramanayaka and the Managing Director of the Andrews Travels Mahen Kariyawasam donated the first computer to the Horizon School. Later the Managing Director of the Slimline Company Mr. Dian Gomes invited Wanni to present a few more used computers to the school. While talking to Wanni he decided to recruit this determined young man into his team. The horizon school got a few more computers and Wanni got a job at the Slimline Company as a Human Resource Executive.

Mr. Donald, who was an expert in website designing, taught Wanni the basics

of website designing. Later both designed the enticing website www.horizonlanka.org. “We wanted to avoid geometrical shapes such as squares,” said Mr. Gaminitillake.

“We tried to add the greenness of Mahavilachchiya to the website as much as possible. Our aim was to make Sri Lankan expatriates homesick,” added Wanni. I must mention that the site is one of the most picturesque websites I have ever seen.

The texts of this website are written in English by the Horizon students. When you go through these beautifully written articles you will never imagine that the little writers are from a war torn area, hundreds of kilometers away from Colombo.

Dr. Nimal Perera, a medical doctor who lives in North Carolina, USA agreed to offer a scholarship to the student Anusha, after reading her articles and her O/L exam results on the web. The friendly doctor too joined us to visit these kids in the village.

You can contact the web master by wanni@horizonlanka.org . Many Sri Lankan expatriate professionals have come forward to help the horizon kids after visiting the website. As a result they were able to lay the foundation stone to their dream computer center. The building will provide the space for 10 computers. Wanni hopes to finish the task by this December.

“In future the computer centers will fade away. Everybody will learn computers alone. Even our computers are kept students’ houses. But this center provides an opportunity for the students to get together. Even if I am not in the scene someday, they will continue to spread the light I lit for them.” says Wanni. Such is the vision of this iron-willed young man. I couldn’t help having a great respect for the confidence and the humanity Wanni displays.

“While I teach them English and computers I found that they have born talents for singing and dancing.” Wanni bought an electric organ and mastered it by himself then he trained the students to play it. Horizon kids began to proceed freely in the fields of singing music and dancing.

I too was fortunate enough to witness their talents in my tour to Mahavilachchiya. Though they do not even have a teacher for aesthetic subjects, the skills they showed was excellent in their dances. Most of the dances were designed by themselves. Here I must mention the talent of little Radhika who performed even slight gestures in a refined skill of an expert. They have taken a great effort to please us with their mini concert. Our applauses brightened their little faces with joy. Those smiles completely swept away the last fragments of my worry about missing my family on the New Year day. I went to see the Horizon kids on April 15 missing the New Year at home.

“I give the kids training on computer hardware under the repairer of our computers. In the future we will be able to repair our computers by ourselves. Anusha and Gayani are following a computer course in Anuradhapura. I hope to get their service to teach the others in future,” says Wanni.

“The most important thing is having an aim to go ahead. My aim is to send these students to the society with a strong personality and confidence. The next main thing I have to mention is, we have done it. We are going ahead, nothing is magic to us anymore it is only our determination and effort,” added Wanni while we were returning.

To me it is a fairy tale beginning with hardships and a pleasant ending. They have a long way to go I am assured that their teacher Wanni and their foster parents, Mr. and Mrs. Gaminitillake will help them in the future. But Mahavilachchiya needs more help. If that happens, the end of this fairy tale will be happier than a tale written by Hans Christian Anderson.